Marking a jubilee year with a surprise trip to
The Lakeland Time, Minocqua, Wisconsin, Marcy
Lord works in mysterious ways is how Sister Pauline Wittry
might put it if asked to explain how she received an unexpected
blessing earlier this year: a trip to China.
I felt badly about the reason I was given
this opportunity, she says (a fellow nun fell and broke
an ankle and wasnt able to make the trip), but I was
very grateful I had the opportunity to go. What a wonderful way
to mark my jubilee year, when I celebrate 60 years in the Franciscan
Photo caption: Sister Pauline
Wittry: I saw no antagonism from the ordinary people
in China. Joyce Laabs photo
Sister Pauline, a member of the Franciscan Sisters
of Perpetual Adoration, is retired and lives at Marywood in Arbor
A native of Iowa, she joined the community, dedicated
to education and health care, in 1943 and took her first vows
in 1946. She earned a bachelors degree at the University
of Montana, a masters in psychology at Loyola in Chicago
and another masters in religious education at Mundelin College
She ended her service in clinical and pastoral education
in La Crosse in 1992, took a years sabbatical, and, at the
time she retired to Marywood in 1993, had been working as a chaplain
at the La Crosse hospital.
Our China sisters had a mission in the country
until the Communists took over, Sister Pauline continues.
We had four Chinese sisters there at one time, one has since
passed. Viterbo College in La Crosse had a sister school in China
and many of the staff at Viterbo traveled there from time to time
to teach a course.
Sister Pauline and Sister Bernadette Prohaska left
the United States on Jan. 30, and made stops in Hawaii and Guam,
where they were guests of community sisters, before arriving in
the Far East.
We had the opportunity to tour Guam, and I
enjoyed this visit as much as the one to China, she says.
We stayed with Sister Gloria, who had served as superintendent
of the Catholic schools for 10 years in Guam and now serves on
the Viterbo College board.
I found the people to be warm and friendly.
They love to eat and celebrate. We visited a memorial in Guam
that touched our hearts. Inscribed on it were the names of the
Americans and Guamanians who were killed during World War II,
plus the names of the Guamanians who suffered during the Japanese
occupation. Sister Gloria, her brother and her parents were on
that list. They had lived in a cave during the occupation.
From Guam to Hong Kong
From Guam they flew to Hong Kong and stayed with
the Chinese sisters in New Territory, on the mainland adjacent
to Hong Kong. There was an American sister, Sister Andre,
in the Chinese community who was a blood sister of one of our
sisters, Sister Pauline says.
Hong Kong was like any big city, she adds. She was
impressed with the parks and the wonderful flowers and blooming
trees. They visited Victorias Peak which overlooked the
harbor, visited the Tea Garden Museum with all kinds of tea pots
and gorgeous gardens, and had dinner at the Jumbo Restaurant.
The Jumbo Restaurant is a floating restaurant.
We reached it on a Sam Pon tug boat, it was an open boat but did
have a little cover overhead. The restaurant had live seafood
below deck where you could go to pick out your entree, she
They spent four days in the Hong Kong area.
We toured the Catholic schools where our Chinese
sisters teach. Interestingly, they are paid by the government.
I dont know how much religion is taught. Although the government
controls the number of students, there are so many enrolled that
there are two sessions of school each day taught by two sets of
teachers. Classes are taught in Chinese, but English is offered
as a subject.
The Chinese sisters teach in both the grade
schools and high schools, she says. They wear their
habits when they teach, most wearing the short veils, but two
or three are in full veil. The grade school is on the grounds
of the convent. Although Buddhism is the main religion in the
area, there are quite a few Catholics plus Protestants and Anglicans.
In addition to the Catholic schools, there are schools run by
the Baptists and Anglicans, and also a Christian school.
The Catholic grade school and convent are
enclosed by a fence to keep out those from the Communist-controlled
area who would come in and steal, she says. Stealing
is very high on the list of crimes in Hong Kong. Those that commit
this crime feel that the people who live in Kowloon, Hong Kong
and New Territory have a lot of money. We never felt at risk and
were given no warnings on areas to avoid. We were only told to
watch our purses at all times.
Sister Pauline says they saw lots of signs in English
and had no problems not being able to speak Chinese.
Marquette University in Beijing
The two sisters traveled from Hong Kong to Beijing,
where they spent a week, staying at Marquette Universitys
Beijing Center for Chinese Studies on the grounds of the University
of International Business and Economics.
Supported by Marquette University in Milwaukee,
the center is open to students from any Jesuit college in the
U.S. who go there to study. Located in a wing of a university
building, it is beautifully decorated in a Chinese theme. University
officials often bring visitors to see the area because it is not
We were met by two young men from the Bejing
Center and stayed at an apartment in the center, leased by Marquette,
Sister Pauline says. One of the young men was a native of
Beijing and one was from from a nearby town. Both spoke English
well and acted as our guides and translators.
My most powerful experience was our trip to
the Great Wall. The first part of the Wall was built in 200 BC
and is lower than the present wall. It has been rebuilt at various
times in the history of China. The present wall was redone in
the 1400s during the Ming Dynasty, Sister Pauline explains.
Interestingly, it was built not only to protect the country again
invading armies but to keep out immigrants.
The Wall is 2 1/2 hours from Beijing. You
buy a ticket for $8 that includes your entrance fee and a ride
on the cable car that takes you part way.
The vista from the Wall is great. You can
see the Wall going on for miles. Beginning at the ocean, it winds
around for 50,000 kilometers. There were not huge crowds at the
Wall as it was the end of winter. We did see a group from Germany
and one from Norway. Also, there were many Chinese visiting the
Wall. When you are there you know it is a place that is an important
part of history.
They also visited Tiananmen Square, which Sister
Pauline says, is much larger than she thought two to three
city blocks with one building surrounded by guards and
featuring a large picture of Chairman Mao.
We found the people in Beijing very friendly
and helpful. They didnt seem oppressed in any way. They
have a very strong work ethic long hours and no Sundays
There were two Catholic churches but only
one was holding Mass. It was the Northern Cathedral, which was
built before the Communists took over. I dont know if it
is under Vatican or Chinese-government control.
Many Catholics in Beijing
It is a very big church with a large congregation,
and it was packed. There are lots of Catholics in Beijing. The
singing was excellent and women are part of the service, participating
in readings, singing and serving Mass. The first church we went
to had some sort of wedding going on and was not holding Mass.
We were confused but were helped by a translator who turned out
to be a refugee from Iraq.
The sisters also did some sightseeing, visiting
the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Palace Museum.
The Summer Palace is in western Beijing,
Sister Pauline says. It sits on 10 to 15 acres overlooking
a lake. We met two Chinese girls who, when they found out we were
Americans, asked if wed visited the Palace Museum. When
we said no, they said they would take us. Both were
attending college. One was from northwestern Mongolia. We went
with them and found that some of their art work was on display.
It was for sale and they wanted us to buy but we turned
However, they did do some shopping while in Beijing.
Because it is my jubilee year, I wanted a
navy blue suit and so we set out to get it. First we went to a
fabric store and I found a fabric I loved and bought enough for
the suit. The cost $20. Then we found a tailor to make
it. The cost $25. I dont have it as yet as he had
many orders. He will mail it to me.
Among the impressions she was left with were that:
- You could see the pride of the people in
their palaces, the Great Wall and their museums.
- There is an eagerness to learn English.
I suspect it is because of the 2008 Olympic Games that will
be held in Beijing. There is lots of construction as they prepare
for the event and there are now more signs in English than Chinese.
- They think that English will be the world
- I saw no antagonism from the ordinary people
- They do think that all Americans are rich.
They get their impressions from American TV and movies.
Whats next for Sister Pauline? Celebrations.
She will go to St. Rose Catholic Church in La Crosse for a Mass
and dinner to celebrate her jubilee year and, in May in Superior,
she will take part in the Superior Dioceses honors for sisters
serving their jubilee year.
by Joyce Laabs
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